Chinese Proverb

"Tell me and I'll forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I'll understand." - Chinese Proverb.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Week 1 - Day 4 (Wed 7/31): Technique, Coffee & Group Photo

My memory is failing me so I think I may be confusing some of the days.... ugh, I knew I should have taken more detailed notes instead of jotting three or four words on the inside of my binder!

Woke up late again so I was late to class... as usual... slacker! Totally setting a bad example... :(
By the way, don't be late if you attend CelloSpeak next year! No one else was late, and I have to admit it was rude of me to be late all the time... sorry... Plus it is nice to get there early to be able to get a good spot and tune, which I didn't get to do most of the time.

However, I did figure out a helpful tip in setting up quickly and more quietly! :)
Most of the participants would bring their stand into the room (and even cello cases) and setup in the room, which is a bit loud. Since I was late all the time, I didn't want to disturb the class so I put my stand together in the hallway and put my binder on it. Don't try this if you have a wire stand because they're not very sturdy.

I would then bring my stand and music, set it down and then walk out of the room grab my cello, tighten my bow, and then come back in to extend my endpin, sit down and be ready to go! Took me a few times of being late to figure that one out.
I didn't think to do this while I was there, but it would have probably been more efficient and quieter if I had extended my endpin before entering the room too so all I had to do was sit down and be ready to play.

Although setting up in the hallway didn't really work in the large ensemble because we were in a theatre and we stored our cello cases and bags in the same room... oops...

Small Ensemble
We selected the pieces for our small group ensemble and voted to play Blue Bells and Hunter's Chorus (for Cello Quartet)and also decided that during the break we would reorganize and sit in the appropriate sections now that we knew which song we were performing and who was playing each part.

Since my focus that week was on vibrato, I tried vibrating my pizzicato since half of Blue Bells for my part was pizz and I wanted to get some practice. I don't know if I was doing it correctly, but LB had mentioned that I should try to get my left hand and right hand comfortable doing different things and I figured this was a bit different! Anyway, I forgot to ask what circumstances would someone want to vibrate pizzicato so I'll have to ask my teacher this weekend during my lesson.

Technique Class
We worked on Hunter's Chorus, but we also covered a lot of helpful techniques.

Shifting to 4th
Prepare for the shift by first thinking about it (imagine the location on the fingerboard), and then shift into the position. I've read this in technique books before and my teachers have mentioned it too.

However, having AE instruct us to look at the note on the page, think and visualize the shift, and then waiting more than a few seconds before telling us it was okay to shift helped a lot.

Typically, when I think of a shift, I don't think of it as long as I should since I tend to rush. My normal thought process would be something like, "What note is that? Oh, that's a shift! Darn. I need to move my hand to that spot. Okay, I think it's over there. Go!"

But with AE instructing us to visualize the shift and think about it, and then "holding out" before allowing us to shift made me focus and think about the shift more. This was basically what I was thinking during the first exercise:

"Okay, shifting to 4th, so I need to move my hand down to the saddle. Ugh, I hate shifting to 4th... oh yeah, don't forget to stretch my pinky to grab that G. Are we ready yet? Why isn't he saying 'Shift?' ....Okay, well I guess from a third person point of view it would be located here on my cello. I wonder how my cello would look from an aerial view?? hhmmm, interesting... why isn't he saying 'Shift' yet?? ...fine, I'll think about it some more... maybe I should make sure my elbow stays in the correct path. Okay, now I think I know where I'm going... yep, I've got this. Oh for goodness sake, are you going to say 'Shift' yet?? I've got this!!" 

And I totally got it too!!! :) I wonder if my thoughts showed up in my facial expressions and if I shot him an impatient look? I think I may have because he smiled and then said, "Shift." Lol!

Anyway, it was an enlightening experience. It made me realize how unprepared I was each time I shifted! Although thinking about it with that much focus and making sure I found that "feeling" each time is a lot of effort and concentration! Not sure if I can do that each time...

Shift to a position
Don't shift to a note, shift to a position.
Both of my teachers have told me this before, but it finally sunk in because I was caught in the act when I tried to shift to 4th position to grab the G on the A string during Hunter's Chorus. See my thought process above - I should NOT be reaching for that G! My hand position should allow for that note just to be there.

Even though people have told me that 4th position is the easiest and most comfortable position, I've found it to be the opposite! But then again, I haven't spent a lot of time in 4th position so it's still unfamiliar and uncomfortable. Anyway, this is still a work in progress too.

Someone asked about harmonics, so LB2 explained how harmonics works by dividing a string in half to find the octave of that note. Then by halving that section again, you can get another octave. It's funny, but I've heard this explained several times before, but I actually never tried it after the fact, so the information never really sank in completely. ...hhhmmm... I guess you could say I was "familiar" with the information because I had heard it so many times, but never really understood it? If that makes any sense!

Anyway, this time I actually took the time to measure it out (from nut to bridge), mark it with a pencil and found all the harmonics! Honestly, if you haven't done this with your cello yet, do it! ...NOW... seriously... right NOW... stop reading this and go find your harmonics.... Your cello will thank you! Not only is it fun to do, but it really does help learn the geography of the cello!

LB2 provided a wonderful tip on tuning. After tuning always play each string individually and then play double stops. This will help start training my ear to recognize when the strings are in tune!! Not sure why I didn't hear of this before, or maybe I had forgotten, because it's so obvious and simple! I'm going to do this from now on.

It's also important to be consciously aware of the sound, so a good idea is to hear the sound in my head or hum it so it doesn't become passive listening.

Anyway, I really enjoyed this class! Even though AE & LB2 went over a lot of information I've heard before, it never really clicked for me until then. We learn by building information in layers to build a deeper understanding of the subject, so revisiting basics is always helpful for me. And, I think focusing on cello 24/7 for a few days really does wonders for improving and understanding cello technique!

Cello choir
We broke up into sectionals and went over fingering and timing. I don't remember what we worked on exactly, but if/when I remember, I'll update the information.

Lunch & Coffee 
If it wasn't so hot and humid, I would have loved walking around campus because they had some awesome buildings! The coffee shop was located in this beautiful castle-looking building, which we got to by walking across the tree-lined field below. Enchanting right? :)

Anyway, I was still suffering from a headache and still a bit jet-lagged or whatever, but I was finally feeling back to normal after getting some coffee, which made me realize that perhaps I was also suffering from caffeine withdrawals too, so I started drinking coffee and soda!

Private lesson
We re-visited vibrato since that was my focus for that week. During my practice sessions I noticed a couple odd things with my vibrato. I always felt that when I was moving my first finger to vibrate that I was doing an extension to reach the note. She explained that it feels that way because the hand has to relax to vibrate so the space between the fingers closes up a bit.

I was also unsure of what to do with my thumb. I don't remember what she said exactly, but she mentioned that the thumb was a balance point. She also mentioned that the thumb had an important role in shifting, and I should think about moving my thumb and the fingers would follow.

Right after the lesson I decided to practice to make sure that I remembered some of the concepts and feelings of the vibrato movement I felt during the lesson, but I'm sure I was driving people nuts with my vibrato exercises!

Group Photo
Yaaay for group photos!!! :)

My muscles were feeling fairly tense so I attended one of the stretching/exercise classes.
What I really enjoyed about this class was the instructor gave cello-specific stretches since she herself was a cellist and participant at CelloSpeak. I'll have to post these exercises in another entry later since this post is exceedingly long. SOOO much information... and this is only the stuff I can remember!

Dinner & Practice 
After dinner, we met up in the spare dorm room and practiced for a while. Since we were having issues with rhythm, we decided to clap out the measures which helped tremendously.

Recital / Concert
A fun concert! My two favorite pieces during the recital was the faculty's performance of Pray by Apocalyptica and one of the cello participants who performed a piece by Natalie Haas.

The Natalie Haas piece was simply amazing! I especially loved the fact that she had invited her daughter (who was a violinist) to do a duet with her. Also, her mom was participating at CelloSpeak so there were three generations in attendance. Very sweet! :)

I don't remember what song they performed, but below is a video of Natalie Haas performing.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Week 1 - Day 3 (Tuesday 7/30): Practicing with a small group

It was day three and I was still suffering from a headache and was still feeling under the weather. Whatever it was, it was definitely sapping my energy!

Technique Classes
I woke up late again and had 5 minutes before the kitchen closed so I rushed to the dining hall, loaded up my plate and shoveled food into my mouth! I'm definitely NOT a morning person and waking up early for me is extremely difficult. I normally have to set two alarms to get up on time.

Anyway, I got to the classroom late, but the doors were locked so everyone was patiently waiting outside - so no one noticed I was late... again... oops...

The faculty was rotating every other day, so we had DH and LB that day. Since the previous day we had worked on repertoire for both the Technique and Ensemble Class, the group was interested in working on some technique. My memory is failing me so this may have been Thursday's lesson...
We started off with scales to warm-up. I still enjoy warming up with scales even though I've done it quite often with my cello group! I don't think it will ever get bored of a bunch of cellos playing scales! :)

Anyway, they asked for suggestions and another cellist called out "vibrato!"
However, they decided to work on technique that could be more easily applied to our current pieces, but promised to work on that the next time they taught the class. We ended up working on bowing exercises instead and worked on a page from their "Cello Chops" book using the Twinkle variations.

I just can't seem to escape Twinkle! Lol! :)
When I first started playing cello, I was "stuck" on Twinkle for THREE agonizing months and absolutely hated that song so I asked my teacher Adam if we could skip the Twinkle variations. Anyway, Twinkle just seems to come back to haunt me over and over and over again!! I should probably start learning to like Twinkle.

Anyway, we applied the 16th bowing technique (which I will now forever associate with "Mississippi" bowing!) to the piece Chase, which we were going to perform in the large ensemble.
I also discovered that I was using the wrong kind of bow stroke. I was supposed to be using more of a brush stroke and keeping my bow on the string. However, I was lifting my bow and separating my bow strokes. ...hhhmmmm... I don't think I've ever learned how to do the brush stroke now that I think about it. What other Suzuki pieces in Book 1 and 2 uses the brush stoke? - with the exception of the Twinkle variations of course.

Anyway, I was also happy to be reviewing the variations and discovered that I had forgotten some of my bowing basics, specifically opening up my elbow and using more bow! I'm going to have to refocus on those techniques again.

Unfortunately, I've picked up some bad habits playing with my normal ensemble group at home as well - hence my teacher Adam's comment on needing to start focusing on intonation and technique when I got back! Anyway, it took me months to feel somewhat comfortable playing close to the bridge, but every time I start playing in any group I revert back to my bad habit of playing close (or even over) the fingerboard because I feel that I am just too loud!
It also didn't help that Marge's cello was very resonant and loud so I felt that I had to play even more quietly. Anyway, opening up my elbow near the bridge versus closer to the fingerboard changes the relationship of when I have to open up my elbow, which was causing my bow to go awry.

Small Ensemble Class 
We worked on Hunter's Chorus and since LB knew I was working on this piece she volunteered me for Part I, although I was really looking forward to playing Part IV.
I have to admit playing Part I in Hunter's Chorus was probably the most difficult piece to play during Week 1 for me. First, there was less cellos playing the part (3 cellists plus an instructor) so I couldn't hide and second, this piece had more interesting rhythms than the others pieces we performed.

Anyway, there was some questions as to how to follow conductor's cues, so we went over some of that information and some problem areas in the piece with rhythm which we applied the Twinkle variations (naturally!).

Key takeaway from this class: work on opening my elbow, and I'd better start learning how to appreciate Twinkle and its variations because it provides the foundation of all advanced bowing technique! Wow, Twinkle... didn't know you were so important!!! 

Large ensemble:
This was kind of a disaster for me! I was having trouble counting. I mean honestly, how difficult does the Gavotte piece look below?? It's SUPER EASY playing it by myself!!! But I was having the most difficult time counting while playing with the group. ...hhhmmm... or maybe I thought I knew what I was doing, but really didn't! ;) Although in my defense playing in an ensemble is a different skill set.

The conductor explained that Gavottes always start part way through the measure which screws up counting, especially with all of the repeats. So instead of slash marks for each quarter note, I decided to write in "3" and "4" to remind myself that I need to start counting from three.

I think everyone was a bit lost and feeling like they should have practiced more, so I asked some cellists sitting close to me if they would like to practice after dinner. All of them were happy to get some extra practice time so we all agreed to meet after dinner.

I was late to lunch... see a reoccurring theme? *sigh* And yes, I am one of those people who are late to everything... anyway, nothing terribly exciting during lunch, but for the past few days I noticed I had been eating an extremely large amount of food and still feeling hungry in between meals! How could sitting ALL DAY playing cello work up such a voracious appetite?

Anyway, I had spoken to another cellist (who was a senior citizen... though most attendees were...) who commented that she typically ate oatmeal for breakfast and lunch, and a small sized portioned dinner because as one gets older, we loose our appetites and don't need to eat as much, but she had found she had been eating a lot too! She admitted that she had been eating eggs and bacon for breakfast and then a large lunch and dinner, which was quite unusual for her. ...hmmmm.... maybe next year I should bring a scale so I don't overeat!

Private Lesson
One of the options was to sit in on private lessons since we had rotating days. It's helpful for me since I could objectively watch the lesson, and in most cases the issues that needed to be fixed also applied to me. It's also much easier for me to see issues in other people's playing than my own. Anyway, I sat in on Rob's private lesson and he played a couple of pieces for our instructor.

LB asked him if he wanted to perform one of the pieces for the recital and he agreed.
She had asked me to perform Hunter's Chorus (the current piece I'm working on) during my lesson on Monday, but I felt that I wasn't ready to perform it and told her that I would think about it. Also, since it was one of the options to perform in our cello ensemble, I thought performing it during the recital would be boring for the cellists in my group.

Anyway, I'll post a video of Hunter's Chorus this weekend sometime since I'm kind of bored of that song and want to move on to the next piece!

Baroque dancing
Unfortunately, I had to skip this class because I wanted to get some practice time. I had attended a Baroque dance class before, and the previous class was similar to the class I attended, but I missed the period costume!! ugh!! I really wanted to see that!

A few interesting things I learned during the previous day's dance class:
1) Dresses were actually short enough to see the ankle, so people couldn't "fake" the steps while dancing.
I always thought dresses were floor length because all the movies I've seen, but that is not the case! Come to think of it, non-floor length dresses would be more practical since it would be difficult to walk on unpaved dirty streets since sewer systems pretty much were non-existent and chamber pots were emptied in the streets. ...eeewwww...

2) Calf muscles were sexy back then! ...they still are though right? ;)
Anyway, the reason for tights and that certain bow with one leg extended was to show off men's calf muscles! Apparently, wealthy people spent most of their evenings attending galas and dancing so they were able to develop larger calf muscles. Therefore, ladies of the court could determine a gentleman was in good standing if they had well developed calf muscles! Talk about peacocks strutting their stuff! Lol! :)

3) Status was super important.
Not only did calf muscles show status, but everyone knew each others' status and rankings because when they lined up to dance, the wealthiest individuals lined up first with the poorest individuals at the back. It's no wonder it was so interesting for writers to create stories about peasants being able to pass as nobleman since they were so conscious about status back then.

All I know is I would have hated to live back then... stuffed in thick uncomfortable clothing with no air conditioning and deodorant!

After missing the Baroque dance class to practice, I was still feeling under the weather so I decided to take a nap and woke up late for dinner!

Practice with small group
After dinner, I met up with the small group from our section. I felt bad for not inviting everyone in our section since I dislike leaving people out and being exclusive. Unfortunately, there wasn't much room since we were using one of the empty dorm rooms as practice space. So there were only four of us: "Sue," "Ellen," "Rob" and I. Although it would have been difficult to get anything accomplished with too many people.

Anyway we went over fingering and played through the pieces which was extremely helpful. I shared my "color coding system" with them to help with music road map and had brought a highlighter that had three different colors.

I like to color code the brackets to know where to go in the music and also draw lines and arrows. I have terrible eyesight so the colors help a lot. I know it looks totally amateurish, but that's the least of my worries when playing in an ensemble, and I use the excuse that I'm a beginner too! ;)

Below is a copy of the actual sheet music I used with my notes for the Gavotte piece:

An instructor during the 2nd week, LB2 (...hmmm...just realized both my first week instructor and quartet coach during the second week have the same initials!!) recommended erasable colored pencils.
I ordered a set and am really excited about using them! I chose the box that had less colors and thicker tip since I think having too many colors may be more confusing than not, and I like highlighting stuff.

Unfortunately, I lost my 3-in-1 highlighter at the workshop during the second week, so I found a similar product, but not quite the same. ...darn... I really liked that highlighter, but I decided to order the one below from Amazon too.  

Some other tips that I've discovered, which seem to be obvious and self-explanatory, but...

1) Write in fingerings - I've met some advanced cellists who dislike writing in fingerings if it can be helped, and when I first started playing ensemble music I kind of thought the same thing. I thought, "how difficult could it be to remember to use 3rd or 2nd finger for sharps or flat?" Then I discovered it was kind of difficult to keep track of everything, so I then I thought, "well, if I miss it twice, than I'll write it in!"

Anyway, long story longer, it's not worth the effort (for me) to remember what finger to use if I can simply jot it down. I figure it's best to save my energy to focus on ensemble playing instead; that is, looking for cues, listening to one another, looking at the conductor, bowing, etc,

Also, some pieces of music have a lot of key changes, like the Telemann's Four Airs for Four Celli that we played during Week 2 (I think it had 5 key changes and accidentals!) and then factor in learning 4-5 different pieces with different key signatures... Let's just say, it's easier to jot it down - even for "easy" key signatures like the one above.

2) Write in sharps and flats - It's difficult for me remember if it's a sharp (or flat) even though it's at the beginning of each line! Again, it's gets confusing juggling information - reading music, watching for cues, listening, processing info - sensory overload!
I also tend to miss the F# on the C string so I like to write those sharps in. Although I'm curious if/when I should stop doing this? Is it a skill I'll eventually need (i.e. remembering when there is a flat or sharp)? But then again, I only do this when playing in a group and not during solo work... hhmmmm... dunno...

3) Write in measure numbers - After rests I like to write in measure numbers so I don't have to keep re-counting the measures. It's also helpful to write in measure numbers where I get lost often (or where my stand-partner gets lost often) so I can easily call out measure numbers.

4) Write in rehearsal numbers - I found if we kept revisiting a section of the music, it's easier to write in a rehearsal letter or a measure number and put a box around it. It saves time having to recount the measures over and over again!

5) Highlight key changes and changes from arco to pizz and vice verse. I like to highlight key changes in the music so I don't miss them. I especially like to use bright colors going from bowing to pizzicato because I need some prep time to change my bow hold.

Also, in measure 28, the eyeglasses is a commonly used symbol to look up at the conductor for the next cue, and the "apostrophe" (beneath the eyeglasses) means to take a breathe or pause. I'll post more examples and tips later, but this entry is getting a bit long!

Participants of the workshop started performing their pieces and I was amazed that some of these cellists had taken up cello later in life! It totally inspired me, but at the same time, it made me more nervous about performing Hunter's Chorus since everyone was playing "real" music, while I was going to perform a piece from Suzuki Book 2! Next year, my goal is to play a "real" piece of music during the recital! ;)

I also discovered that there were a few cello teachers participating at the workshop. I LOVE it when teachers participate! I highly respect teachers who continue to improve their own skills.

Anyway, after the concert I couldn't sleep so I decided to practice and lost track of the time, and ended up playing past 11:30pm. The next day there was a sign about practice times, i.e. "quiet hours." Oops!! Sorry neighbors! Although another participant told me there was a cellist who had practiced until 4am, or maybe they just woke up really early...
Whoever that was, "Cheers!!!" Glad there was another night owl among us. :)

Monday, July 29, 2013

Week 1 - Day 2 (Monday 7/29): Classes & a replacement cello

I was really ill prepared for this workshop and totally off on my game the entire time I was there ...ugh... worse student ever! I'm blaming it on being jet-lagged! ;)

Anyway, I woke up late and rushed to eat breakfast before hurrying to the first class of the workshop. I got there a bit late, but (I think) no one noticed because everyone was still slowly unpacking and getting settled in when I arrived.

Technique Class & Ensemble Class
In my haste, I forgot my workbook and rockstop so I ended up using my slip-on shoe as a rockstop and sharing a stand with an elderly women named "Elle." I felt kind of bad because I know how difficult it is to share a stand, especially if one has bad eyes, and both of us had poor eyesight! Anyway, I didn't mind sitting in the back and actually preferred it.

As a class, we decided we wanted to read and play through the music so we could select the 2 out of 3 pieces we would perform at the end of week. We had the choice of Hunter's Chorus, Blue Bells and Locus Iste.
Since I was swamped at work and other tasks before the workshop, I hadn't practiced any Week 1 music and was sightreading everything. Even though I had played Blue Bells and Locus Iste in my cello group before, I had also sightread it back then too so none of it really stuck with me.

Anyway, we decided to read through Blue Bells first, which was a relief because it was an "easy warm-up" for me. I was also thankful the teachers decided to have everyone play the parts together before splitting us up so I could get a sense of how everything should be played.

After they assigned us our parts for Blue Bells we did an exercise to determine who had the melody. Each part would only play if they had the melody. I had done this exercise before so I was familiar with it, but it was fun nonetheless. :)

A key take-away and a "rule of thumb" that I've heard FREQUENTLY for ensemble playing:

If you have the melody bring it out
If you don't have the melody, be quiet!

Which can be reiterated as:
  • Know if you are a supportive role so you know when to be quiet; or if you have a supportive role "get out of the way!"
    • This can be done by playing pianissimo or "decaying notes," especially with whole, half and some times quarter notes.
    • In large ensembles or orchestras, if I can hear myself during ppp, pp, or p I'm being too loud. Of course, that's all relative too. 
  • If you have the melody, be louder!
    • If you have "moving parts" it is likely it's a more important role.

Unfortunately, I tend to play on the loud side... heh, heh... oops...

We were all reading from parts, so another helpful tip was to write down who had the melody.

My teacher Clayton had actually gone over a lot of these ensemble tips before, but I was really surprised that I remembered most of the information he provided and the context that I first heard the information!
It was also nice to know that other teachers taught the same information Clayton did. I was beginning to think I was ahead of the curve with all of the ensemble tips I had received from Clayton!

Anyway, we had a 15min break so I ran back to my dorm to grab my rockstop and music, and we read through more of the music.

Large Cello Choir Class
The first piece we worked on was Sarabande, but I kept getting lost because the tempo was on the slower side. Per the conductor's suggestion, I started subdividing everything as to not rush the notes.
Clayton had also mentioned this prior to the workshop, he explained that it's more difficult to rush notes when subdividing because I have to fill out the space with the "&'s" and whatever - they're like speed-bumps! But in my case, it's more like stop signs because it takes me a while to figure out how to subdivide! Lol!

Anyway, Sarabande looked really easy and I could play it by myself, but a roomful of cellos playing all at once and my counting just goes out the door! I also hadn't practiced the music. I finally decided to watch the first chair in our section to get cues on when to play because my counting was so inconsistent!

I quickly ate lunch so I could start practicing the assigned music. Sightreading the music and playing poorly was definitely taking a blow to my ego! Lol! ...not that I play that well... but I definitely was playing a lot worse than I normally did and it was driving me nuts!

Private Lesson 

We went over some of the large ensemble music since I'm terrible at rhythm and didn't know how to count some of the measures. She had me say "Mississippi" or "Watermelon" for 16th notes, "Hot Dog" for 8th notes and "Triple It" for triplets. Using words for rhythm seems to be a lot easier for me to keep track of than numbers and letters!
I know the Suzuki method teaches that to read rhythm, but for some reason that never clicked for me until that day. Wow, it took me two years to figure that one out!! Doh!!

I have however, gotten better at counting 1 & 2 &... but still can't manage to count 1e&a2e&a.... while reading music, bowing and fingering!! A work in progress....
Some time ago, I had been complaining to Clayton about my lack of counting and how I just kind of "feel" how the music goes, which of course doesn't work when playing with other people! He commented that if I had tried counting from the very beginning, than I would have had 2 years of practice on learning how to count!!! ...and without saying, probably a lot better at counting since 2 years is a long time...
Anyway, that comment actually had a huge impact on me and what has made me focus more on learning on how to count... I have two years to catch up on afterall! ;)

Anyway, I also wanted to focus on vibrato since my vibrato was still incorrect. I could feel it was incorrect because it took a lot of effort, and I would tense up and my shoulders and neck would start hurting, so I asked that we work on vibrato.

LB had me make a circle with my pointer finger and thumb and put it by my collarbone. Next, she had me rotate from my elbow while keeping my elbow in place.

Both my teachers do not advocate the "rotation method" but the up and down motion (i.e. sticky finger) instead, but I wanted to learn it anyway. I figure more tools in my toolbox! :)

Anyway, I'm glad I did because I had a MAJOR epiphany about my vibrato. I kept hearing from my teachers "don't rotate," "it should be coming from your elbow/back and not my wrist," etc. But doing that exercise made me become conscious of the feeling of how to initiate the movement from the elbow! Anyway, my vibrato is sounding better, but it's still a work in progress.

She gave me a few exercises:
1) Vibrate at different speeds. Set the metronome to 60 and then vibrate slowly using "apple," then "strawberry" and then "watermelon."
2) Try it at different positions: 1st, 2nd, 4th and 7th (if possible)

I've tried the "sticky finger" exercises below, but for the life of me I just can't figure it out!
My finger just slides all over the place...
View this video on YouTube:

Baroque Dancing
It was a terribly hot and humid day and I was still a bit jet lagged so I wasn't entirely up for dancing, but I made myself go because I was feeling tense from practicing. I'm glad I attended because it definitely loosened some of my muscles.

Violin shop
I went to the shop to replace the cello, but I was sort of frustrated that I had to use up my "free time" (and had to walk in the hot and humid weather) instead of practicing. When I got to the shop, the luthier apologized, but I was in a "mood" and left quickly after he exchanged the cello.

I'm totally blaming it on the headache! In fact, another Colorado participant had mentioned she was suffering from a headache since she got there too. I know people get altitude sickness going to Colorado (we're a mile up from sea level) so maybe it happens in reverse too?

Anyway, later I checked the cello and discovered it was a a Jan Szlachtowski cello!
I was really curious about this cello maker and had heard good reviews, so I had wanted to try out a cello from this maker. These cellos are "professional" handmade cellos usually costing more than $10,000.

And I got to play it for two weeks!!! SWEET!!! :)

I still felt jet lagged or under the weather, and had an annoying headache so I decided to take a nap and slept through the concert! I woke up just in time to help out with the Reception, which I had volunteered to help out.

Overall, a good day - a few cello epiphanies and a cello I was excited to test out!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Week 1 - Day 1 (Sunday (7/28): Orientation

I'll change the names as usual for participants, but may use teachers' names or initials.


I couldn't fall asleep the previous day, so I slept until around noon and woke up just in time for registration and lunch! :)

I was excited for the workshop to finally begin, and at Checkin I received the following items:

I was really impressed with the organization and quality of items I received. The folder contained information about each week, who my instructors were, a directory of participants from the camp, and a lot of other useful information. 

I heard that the organizers change the schedule year-to-year to accommodate requests so I figured it wouldn't be a big deal to post the schedule; and there are only so many permutations one can do to organize an all day event since one needs to work around breakfast, lunch and dinner. ...hhhhmmm... now that I think about it, the schedule is fairly similar (or the same) to the cello camp I attended in California the previous year.

I forgot to mention the previous day that I had started practicing scales on the cello to become familiar with the finger-spacing of the notes and discovered there was an open seam on the upper right bout. I wasn't 100% certain the seam was open until I gently tapped the surrounding area, which my luthier had taught me to do to check for open seams.

To determine if I have an open seam, gently tap around the cello and the sound should be "relatively the same." If not, there's an open seam.

Anyway, there was definitely a noticeable difference so I decided to inspect the cello further to make sure there wasn't anything else wrong with it. There were a few scratches, but no cracks or anything. I also noticed that the cello was very dusty (not sure why I missed that at the shop) and ended up wiping it down with a clean cloth. This got me a bit irritated that they provided me a cello that had an open seam and didn't even bother to take the time to wipe it down! It wasn't rosindust either, it was normal dust that had accumulated on the cello and was fairly thick too!
I get the fact that I'm a beginner and that most beginners don't mind (or miss the fact) that the cello has an open seam or is dusty, but come on, seriously?! Although in retrospect, I should have looked at the cello more closely at the shop... but still...

Lunch & Orientation:
Right after lunch we had orientation and Dorothy walked us through the schedule. I was a bit distracted and had developed a nagging headache that wasn't going away, so I didn't think to bring my folder with information to take down notes during the orientation, which got me in an even grumpier mood.

Free time:
I met with my private instructor for the week, LB and she looked over the cello and confirmed that the cello had an open seam. We also scheduled our 1 hour lessons every other day. I had missed the announcement that we were to meet with our instructors after orientation to figure out our schedule for our private lesson, so I was given the last slot since I missed the meeting. Fortunately, this happened to work out perfectly for me! I was really glad that the group had also decided against doing 30min lessons, which is never enough time for me to cover anything in detail.

LB suggested I contact the violin shop to see if they would pick up and replace the cello so I emailed them to see what they wanted me to do with the cello. I've heard some luthiers say that an open seam is okay for awhile, and the open seam didn't bother me since it wasn't rattling or making odd noises, but I also didn't want the seam to open further since I would be playing the cello at a minimum of 5 hours a day. Anyway, I continued to practice my scales to become more familiar with the cello, just in case.

I was a bit irked about the rental cello and was discussing it during dinner, when an organizer MC suggested that I borrow a cello from another participant (I'll call her "Marge") who had brought her other cello to sell. After dinner, I met up with Marge to borrow her cello.

Testing the two cellos below. On a positive note, I was able to test / play two cellos! :)

Nothing exciting about dinner, except introducing ourselves to other participants, but I honestly was not feeling up to it since I was feeling tired and grumpy, and my headache wasn't going away.

Lots of Popper pieces, which I loved! My favorite was Popper's Dance of the Elves performed by AE. It just looked so effortless... and fast! :) I didn't get a chance to video record it - although I'm not sure if the faculty would have allowed that.

Below is a video of Rostropovich playing the piece, which I had watched numerous times before.

This was the first time I had seen someone perform this piece live, so I was really excited to see it performed, and was also totally impressed with AE's performance too. The concert definitely put me in a much better mood.

I had some wine and cheese and crackers since dinner was at 5:30pm and it was already past 9pm. I normally don't eat dinner until late, so I was starving by the time the concert was over.

Impromptu play-in
During the reception I met Sheryl for the first time, who was one of the composers who provided arrangements for my cello group. It was really exciting to meet her after exchanging emails for more than a year! :)

Anyway, she organized a play-in in the "basement" and I was able to hang in there playing Part IV and was able to sightread most of the music. Although I have to admit I had played a few pieces before in my cello group. However, it became more difficult to sightread towards the end when the music became more difficult, and at the same time, I was getting more tired so couldn't concentrate as well - but it was an absolute blast! xD

Day one was an "easy" day to ease into the week, but I was definitely looking forward to the classes and learning more about the cello!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Flying to CelloSpeak (7/27/13)

Back from my two week cello "get-away" / vacation in Pennsylvania. Wish I would have taken more notes, but I'll try to re-create my days from memory.


It was a rough start to the workshop, as I was flying Standby and was trying to bring my cello, but the cello didn’t make it on to the flight. There were a few available chairs on the flight, but because an instrument is only allowed to be in certain rows/seating they couldn’t let the cello on board. Bummer! :(
I ended up having the person at the gate take my cello to the customer dept in the same terminal for my husband to pick up later. This was a bit of a worry, since I’ve never left my cello unattended before; that is, being in visual sight of it.
After a billion people asked me why I couldn’t check it in, I’ve finally came up with an answer that seems to placate most people. I just say that “my case isn’t a 'travel case' (which it isn’t) and that the temperatures in the cargo hold, or if the cello happened to tip over during the flight, would cause the wood to crack and destroy the instrument.” That seemed to appease most people. Although it's kind of self-explanatory why a person would not want an instrument in the cargo hold, right? ...hmmmm... maybe not...

After arriving in Pennsylvania, I took a cab to the college, which was a big mistake. I should have taken the train which would have been a LOT cheaper and easier! The cab driver took me to the wrong college - I don’t know whether by mistake or on purpose (to get more money for the fare), but it cost an extra $25! Then he dropped me off at the wrong building and I had to walk across most of the campus lugging my backpack and two overly stuffed large pieces of luggage. By the time I got to the correct building, I was sweating like crazy (much more humid and hot in Pennsylvania than Colorado) and feeling very frustrated. Ugh, I HATE campuses, buildings are never obviously marked and I always get lost… but then again, I’m a total spaz and get lost all the time anyway...

After arriving, I discovered that my rental cello wasn’t at the workshop, but at a local shop a couple of miles away and would only be open for the next 20 mins or so. I couldn’t afford to take another cab (I was on a fairly tight budget for this workshop) and did not want to walk on a hot humid day to get there. Anyway, long story longer, a very helpful and friendly assistant ended up driving me to the shop. Then at the luthier’s shop I forgot to transfer money into the account to rent the cello and had to text my husband to transfer money. Kind of embarrassing, but that’s what I get for not paying attention and doing everything last minute again. *sigh*

At the violin shop, I rented a cello outfit and they provided me new rosin, a newly haired bow, concert mute for the workshop, a new case and of course a cello. I actually LOVE testing out cellos and cello accessories so I was excited to see that I never used the rosin and case before.

Cello Case
The cello case I received was a GEWA case which had been discontinued. At the end of the two weeks of using the case I could see why it was discontinued. It was just not very functional and I found the case to be oddly shapped and a bit bulky! I felt like I was lugging around a huge egg!

Some negative points on the case:
1) It doesn’t have wheels. I typically carry my cello on my back with the straps, but it is nice to have the option of wheeling the case indoors on smooth carpeted surfaces.
2) It’s a bit on the heavy side. It’s bigger than the case I currently have (not as compact). For someone who doesn’t have back issues, I’m sure it would be great, but for me – not so much! If most of the classes, dining hall and dorms weren’t in the same building I think I would have been really unhappy with lugging this big case around. I definitely would not purchase one of these cases.
3) The bow holders have zippers that would catch on the bow's hairs. I had a lot of bow hairs get caught in the zipper and detach from the bow.
4) The shoulder straps would come off sometimes. I think I was grabbing the shoulder straps incorrectly, but honestly, I've never had my shoulder straps come off on my other cello cases. It would have been disastrous if a should strap came loose and one side of the cello case were to hit the floor or something! yikes!

1) It had a lot of pouches and areas to keep cello accessories. One of the instructors even commented that the main inside compartment could even fit her lunch!
2) It's sturdy and has great clasps to close the case! ...but at the price of being very heavy bulky...

I've never used this rosin before. I currently use Kolstein "Normal" Rosin and have used other rosins in the past so I was excited to try this out. Honestly, I like it as much as the Kolstein rosin, but then again, I'm not sure if it was due to the bow or the bow hair. I would have to test it on my normal bow to really determine how well it works.

The cello was fantastic! I believe the cello was made by one of the luthiers at the shop, the second cello he had created. I found two wolfs on this cello (which wasn't too bad), but both my cellos have not developed any wolfs yet. This cello was also on the darker side than the Li (which I like) and was also very resonant.
Unfortunately, I'm used to having a posture peg that having the C peg on the rental cello bothered me a bit. I could feel my shoulders start to hunch and my posture being more tense to try to avoid the peg from touching my body. I absolutely 100% recommend getting posture pegs on the C or C&G pegs. Everyone I’ve recommended it to, completely loves it!

I also have PegHeds on both of my cellos and this cello had normal pegs which seemed to be a bit sticky and difficult to turn. Although I guess I’d rather have it sticky than not, so the pegs don't slip as often...

This cello was also very resonant and LOUD. Anyway, the rental package was pretty awesome thus far.

Bryn Mawr Campus:
A beautiful campus!! Below are photos of the building (Rhoades Hall) that the group stayed at.

The dorms weren't too bad either and I was really happy to discover that I didn't have to share a dorm. :)

Day one entry to be posted tomorrow... 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Lesson #137A: Listening to audios

We went over Week #2 music for Cellospeak.
My assignment is to listen and familiarize myself with these pieces. :)

Music for Week 2:
1) Tchaikovsky - Serenade:
   -3rd Mov't:
   -4th Mov't:
2) Beethoven - Rondo from Symphony No. 7
3) Telemann - Four Airs for Four Celli 
4) Dvorak - Walzer 
5) Bach - Chorale and "Gute Nacht" from Jesu Meine Freude 

Lesson Notes
This was kind of a weird lesson because we ended up talking during the entire lesson with me listening. It was helpful though because it's difficult for me to listen to a piece of music and know how/where the arrangement fits into everything.

I always get recommendations from musicians to listen to a recording to get an overall sense of how it is supposed to be played... which makes sense, but in practice.... truthfully I'm a bit lost! Especially since I didn't listen to classical music before learning how to play the cello, so a lot of classical music is still a bit ...ummmm.. "boring" and sound very similar to me! *gasp* ...yeah, I know but it's the truth...

I am, however, finding that I am liking more and more music in this genre - although it's mostly cello solos, sonatas, concertos, etc. Lol! ;)

Which got me wondering... appreciation for music definitely needs to be cultivated, so I wonder if musicians, or people born into a musical family, enjoy a wider taste in music because they can appreciate how much work goes into learning and playing an instrument?

Scales Update:
Recently I've been working a lot on my scales so I can work on technique like: for my left hand, making sure my left hand hovers over the strings, relaxing my hand, having a similar hand shape for vibrated and non-vibrated notes and shifts. For my right hand, making sure my bow is straight (again) to fix my tone.

I also haven't practiced scales in a pretty long time, and I figured since I said I knew how to play most of the scales in 2 octaves for the workshop, I'd better start practicing them to familiarize myself again! I only remember Cmaj, Gmaj and Fmaj... wow, lots to remember and work on!

Seriously, my intonation has gone out the window. It's funny, but both my teachers are gone right now, but before Adam left he said when we both got back from our trips that we would have to work on intonation and vibrato (in that order)! heh, heh... oops! Maybe it'll get fixed during the workshop! ;)

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Thoughts on the "Learning Quotient"

Another beginning adult cello blog Cello with Love (who started blogging in 2011 too), posted this AWESOME blog regarding the Talent Code by Daniel Coyle I thought it would be fun to add comments to each and I would love to hear how others rate themselves too. :)

The information is originally from the website: I think I'll have to start following that blog and read that book too! :)


[excerpt from the Talent Code website below]
My thoughts in blue.

I’d like to suggest an idea called Learning Quotient. The idea is that our ability to learn is a measurable skill, just like IQ.
Here’s how it might work: rate yourself from 0 to 5 on the following questions according to the usual scale: 0 for strongly disagree; 5 for strongly agree.

  • 1. You work on your skills for an hour or more every day 3? Depends on which day you catch me on. For the most part, I try to pick up the cello at least once a day. Although during the July 4th weekend, I took a break from everything and was a complete couch potato! 
  • 2. You are focused on process, not the immediate outcomes 3? ...hmmm... these questions are a bit weird or maybe I'm over-thinking things again... I LOVE the process, which is very enjoyable and calming for me, but I do believe in immediate outcomes as well. Why can't I have both?? ;) Having a good process typically results in immediate outcomes anyway, right?, hopefully in most cases? 
  • 3. You have strong relationships with mentors/coaches, and use them as models and guidance 4.5 I absolutely ADORE my two cello teachers, but I am a bit stubborn and opinionated, hence the 4.5. Although I can't remember any instances where I didn't take their advice ...hmmm... okay, eventually take their advice! I do frequently use them as models as well. I especially take the the advice of my teacher Clayton when organizing our cello group. I don't think he knows how heavily I rely on his advice.
  • 4. You are keenly aware of how much you do not know, and the gap between your present abilities and your long term goals 5 I know diddly-squat about everything and anything! Lol! Yes, it's a VERY deep chasm between my present abilities and how I would like play someday! *sigh* I know it's a bit difficult to know what I don't know, but I can easily compare myself to a cello great, like Janos Starker, and know I'm no where close! On a scale from 1 to 10 (with 10 being as technically skilled as Mr. Starker), I'd be a negative 20! It's just so obscenely and ridiculously absurd that I should even compare myself to someone with that level of ability and knowledge. Huuuuggee gap! My goal is to have technical ease while playing whatever cello music in whatever genre that I so desire! Talk about long term goals... lol! Anyway, I also prescribe to Bruce Lee's philosophy of "emptying one's cup!" ;)
  • 5. You can accurately and precisely describe the skills you want to build 5 I could easily list how would like to play someday and could provide YouTube examples too, and the list seems to get longer and longer! When I watch cellists, I always think about how they play and can typically find more than 2 aspects in their playing that I would like to incorporate in my own playing. For example, having their bow hold, intonation, body movement, passion, phrasing, energy in different areas of the body or technical aspects, bow articulations, stage/performance presence, sight-reading abilities, relaxedness, use of dynamics, use of vibrato, sweetness in tone, rhythm, ability to improvise, breathing, cues, connected-ness (is that even a word??) to music, etc, etc. I better stop there or this is going to be a really long post.
  • 6. You think about improving your skills all the time I don't think I necessarily think about trying to improve specific skills, I just try to play the music to the best of my abilities when I'm playing. I also don't think I do it all the time. I do have to work, eat, sleep.... 
  • 7. You approach your daily work with enthusiasm 3 Sometimes I'm just too tired and unmotivated to practice, and sometimes I really don't want to practice, but by the end of my practice session I don't want to put my cello away to go to bed. My poor neighbors have to listen to me practice after midnight sometimes! 
  • 8. You are balanced between building with repetition and seeking innovations 4.5 I like repetition (it's somehow comforting), and finding new games to make those repetitions fun is also enjoyable for me too! 
  • 9. You are comfortable going outside of your comfort zone 4.5 I think stepping out of one's comfort zone to expand one's area is important in learning, so I try to do this frequently. Although I do whine about it sometimes... okay, I frequently whine about it! Lol! ;) But how else would I know what I'm capable of otherwise? Wait a minute... that question is a bit odd... if one is comfortable going outside of their comfort zone, than wouldn't they still be in their comfort zone? ...heh, heh... ;) ...maybe they should rephrase that to: You frequently step outside of your comfort zone.  Or: You attempt to expand your comfort zone on a regular basis... or something to that effect?
  • 10. You are constantly adapting and refining your learning process 5 Yes!! I believe there's always an easier and better way of doing things! - "If it's not broke, break it!" :). Although sometimes I focus too much on finding a better process instead of just putting my nose to the grindstone!

By this yardstick, a perfect LQ would be 50: the heavenly realm of John Wooden and Goldschmidt. Below 15 and you’re either comatose or Allen Iverson (an immense talent who famously didn’t believe in practice). I suspect most of us would fall in the 25-30 range or so, which, among other things, speaks to the inherent challenges of creating a daily routine and sticking to it.

What I like about the idea of LQ, however, is that it is not a fixed quality. It can be increased and grown, and profoundly affected by environment and group culture.

[excerpt from the Talent Code website above]


So what does this all mean? I typically like to respond, "that I'm CRAZY!" ;)

Just kidding... maybe... it just means that I'm more conscientious of my learning process than most people since I scored a 40.5, but that is to be expected since I blog and video record my progress!!
...I mean seriously, who does that??? That's a bit crazy! ;)

For those who scored lower, it may mean that you need re-evaluate your learning process. I haven't read the book so that's an assumption, but I would think the key take-away based on doing the questionnaire would be: make sure you have an effective learning PROCESS! There are a lot of books and blogs that cover this like:
And apparently the Talent Code, which I will have to read sooner than later.
The books and websites listed above are the ones I've read and also follow online. Although I haven't looked for any books or websites recently.

Also, what I really like about Clayton's lessons, is when I learn a new piece of music, we would go over difficult sections, and he would say something like, "this is how I would practice this" and he would first show me, and then have me try it first with him, and then by myself. This way, I go home knowing exactly how to practice a new piece. It's created a great process for me because I can (for the most part) anticipate how he'll break something down to learn a new piece of music and have recently been using it to learn some new pieces on my own since he's gone for the summer. It's also great to know that a cellist that I admire, uses the same process that I use when learning music! Very cool! :) See, I do use my mentors as models! Maybe I should change that score to a 5! Lol! :)

Monday, July 8, 2013

Working on music for Cellospeak workshop

I finally started working on music last Saturday for the workshop, and I wish I wouldn't have procrastinated so badly because it's a LOT of music! 11 pieces of music to learn in three weeks.
...ugh... that's what I get for slacking off... :(

Music for Week 1:
Week 1 music is sight-readable, except for Hunter's Chorus since I'm terrible at rhythm. At first glance, for the most part, it looks "easy enough,"  which is great so I can work on ensemble skills (listening to others, working on dynamics, match bowing, etc). But now I think I may be over-thinking things and am starting to get a bit overwhelmed. It's also the case that I think that since this is on the "easier side" that the music should be perfectly polished, or at least fairly well practiced, and with my procrastination I don't think I can bring it up to that level.

Also, since it's on the easier side maybe I should be focusing on vibrato and different positions? ...but that would make things too difficult for me since there's a lot of music to learn.... Or if I just stay mostly first position, than it'll be on the "easier side"... but then again, I want to use the same fingerings as everyone else? ...see, way over-thinking things! :(

I always wondered why people got so confused regarding fingerings, and always heard the advice, "just stick to one fingering and practice that or you'll never get it."
I've noticed some beginner and intermediate cellists who would get fingerings from different teachers, and other cellists, and they definitely looked a bit confused. Now I totally understand where they're coming from!  Too many options!

I also got some great advice from Adam regarding what to do when given the option of playing. This was a few months ago when I was whinning about the fact the music was too difficult, and if "push comes to shove" I could simply drop out and not play specific pieces for the concert. He basically said not to think about that option because having "an out" meant that I wouldn't be practicing and preparing for the concert the way I would normally, and he was absolutely 100% correct! I definitely practiced and felt differently when I made the decision that I was going to play ALL of the music regardless if did well or not.

I applied this idea to the option of playing Part IV or Part V. I initially felt that if "push comes to shove," I could switch to Part V if I felt I wasn't going to be prepared for the workshop, which I now have mentally removed the option of playing Part V as a "backup plan." This definitely helped me because 1) it's less overwhelming with less music to look at and 2) I can really focus on the music. I figure if I fail in playing Part IV, then it's a learning experience and it won't happen again! ;). But if I chicken out and play Part V (when I already know I can play it), than I'm not stepping out of my comfort zone and missing a great learning opportunity!

Music for Week 1:
  • Hoedown & Chase - Hoedown may me a challenge depending on the tempo and has a lot of half position, and I think Chase uses a different bowing technique that I'm not too familiar with
  • Bach Sarabande - straight forward 
  • Bruckner Locus iste - straight forward 
  • Blue Bells of Scotland - I've played this before! :)
  • Weber's Hunter's Chorus - the most difficult out of this week's music because of the rhythm

Music for Week 2:
Week 2 music is a different story, this is more on the medium-difficult side. It's doable, but I need to practice this a lot. ...hmmm... actually now that I think about it, this may work out. I can focus on Week 2 music now, and work on Week 1 music while I'm there. ...dunno...  I have a lesson with Adam to go over the music tomorrow so we'll see what pieces need more work.

Music for Week 2:
  • Orange Blossom Special
  • Tchaikovsky - Serenade
  • Telemann - Four Airs for Four Celli 
  • Beethoven - Rondo from Symphony No. 7
  • Dvorak - Walzer 
  • Bach - Chorale and "Gute Nacht" from Jesu Meine Freude 

I'm looking forward to playing Chorale & Gute Nacht, which can be purchased from National Cello Institute. Another cello ensemble playing the piece below - it sounds beautiful!! :). I'm playing the easiest part (Part 3), but I think maybe I should not be using any open strings and use vibrato? ... ack, over-thinking everything...

I happened to find all, but the two commissioned pieces of music, and purchased them so I can have the score and possibly play them later - although I don't know if I'll receive some of them in time for the workshop since a few of them were out of stock. Maybe other attendees had the same idea as I did! :)

Anyway, I practiced an hour on Saturday and Sunday, and two hours today. I'm going to focus on one piece of music or one page of music a day (depending on difficulty) - otherwise jumping from one piece to another and working on a few sections at a time makes me feel like my practice wasn't productive. I think I'll try to record short excerpts of some of the music before I leave - that will get me motivated to work on the music more and maybe I can have a before and after video montage! lol!

I also need to figure out how I'm going to get there. Do I take a ride with my friend Susan who is also attending? This poses some problems since I'm already taking two weeks off from work so the two extra days to drive there means it will be unpaid, which is not good. Or do I fly Standby? But that means taking my cello would be difficult, which means I may need to rent a cello; and unfortunately, it looks like most of the cellos have been rented from the local shops that are supplying rental cellos at Cellospeak. ...ugh, talk about last minute again!

Kitty Socialization
Can't help but post about my kitties! :)
I need to start introducing Cello to more people so he isn't afraid of people. Snuggles is a people-cat and loves approaching new people, but Cello is a scaredy-cat. :) I don't think he was handled by people when he was with his litter. Cello also hides when he hears loud noises, so we've been keeping NPR radio on when we're not at home so he can get used to the sound of human voices and music playing. Surprisingly enough, it seems to be working! My two cats no longer run and hide when I practice, and also seems to be able to nap during my loud practice sessions. Although during my two hour practice today, neither kitties had the patience to listen to me for that long!

Cello taking a nap. 

My two kitties chillin on the couch with me!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Working on some improvisation

After a couple of our play-ins, one of our members, who is also a cello teacher, Rex, showed me and another cellist, Bill, how to do some improvisation!!! Pretty AWESOME!!! :)

Rex had attended the New Directions Music Festival last month and was pretty excited about it. I think I'll definitely have to go next year. I was too chicken to go this year because it looked like it was for more advanced cellists (and I couldn't afford it anyway!) and my attempts to learn improvisation were epic fails so I wanted to hold off until I could understand / play some improvisation. :)

Anyway, it was an interesting way of approaching how to improvise. Basically, he would start a rhythm, I would add something on, and then Bill would add something, and we would just go around taking turns. I'm not sure if I was in tune, because I was focusing more on rhythm, but to me it was sounding pretty decent! Both times I think we played for an hour or so, and time just flew by!

Way back when...when Clayton was teaching me how to do some jazz improvisations, Clayton had suggested that I listen to some jazz (or other improvisations), to find small riffs that I liked and to practice that for a week or so. Now that I've done this "exercise" with Rex and Bill a couple times, it totally makes sense because as we were taking turns I could see how listening for small patterns and knowing a few riffs could really help out in playing improvisations!

We also experimented on making some percussive sounds on the cello, tapping the shoulders of the cello, tailpiece, fingerboard, etc. I've met some cellists who are very hesitant and timid about making those types of sounds on the cello (myself included!), but wow, it sounded really cool once I got past being hesitant about knocking, tapping, etc. on the cello. I've always said that the cello was extremely versatile, but experimenting and discovering different sounds just made me realize that I know diddly-squat about cello improvisation and I'm not even at the tip of the iceberg! ...more like drifting on a piece of ice that broke lose from the iceberg!!! Sooooo much to learn!!!!

A few things Rex had us experiment on:
  • Muting strings to get a more percussive sound while doing some pizzicato and using them as grace notes.
  • Slides - Sliding the fingers and bow to make it sound more like an electric guitar! I was able to get this a couple times and it really did sound like an electric guitar! I need to practice this more to get this more consistent.
  • Chords - Getting the hand shape to play chords is difficult!!! My hand kept cramping up! Rex was explaining how hand shapes can correspond with chords, but I was too busy trying to get my fingers to reach across the strings to get the correct notes that the chord names and info kept escaping me. I can only concentrate on one thing at a time! Lol! 
  • Hand flick-thingy - no idea what it's called, but flicking / opening up the hand while using the second fingernail to strum across the strings, and then closing the hand and strumming it at the same time. 
  • Playing a note and using the left hand to tap across the strings to create a percussive sound. 

It's funny he mentioned that he used to practice using the Ear Trainer (daily for an entire year!) that Clayton had recommended way back when to learn how to start recognizing chords. I guess I should have kept up with that! :(

Improvisation goals:
  1. Do Ear Trainer (Chords & Jazz Chords) until the New Directions Music Festival next year 
  2. Learn one riff a month 
  3. Practice chords / hand shapes 
  4. Practice slides 
  5. Practice using those different playing techniques above 

Sooooo much to learn!!!
I guess my ultimate goal would be: being able to play the cello how I want no matter what genre or difficulty level, and sounding fabulous while doing it! One day.... ;)